Best of CityPlace

Award-winning filmmaker spends winters in Vietnam and summers in Toronto’s CityPlace

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CityPlace residents usually live between Blue Jays Way/Bremner Boulevard and Bathurst Street.  Jay Rao, however, lives between Ho Chi Minh City and Toronto.

Rao is a CityPlace resident, yes, but also a filmmaker. His latest film, UNFORGETTABLE, is a 20-minute short film shot on location in Vietnam. It is a proof of concept for a feature film and is his first film shot outside of Canada in a foreign language.

He’s been a CityPlace resident since 2003 because he was starting his film & television career and most of his meetings were downtown.

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“CityPlace seemed like the perfect neighbourhood.  It was modern and perfectly located for my work,” Rao explains. “Now I spend part of the year in Vietnam — you guessed it, in winter — and part in Toronto. I’m happy to say I’ve missed most of the last five winters.  I’ve always been very happy being a part of the CityPlace neighbourhood and have no intentions of moving out. I’ve made a lot of great friends and contacts at CityPlace, and love the location.”

“Being an optimist, who likes to see the glass as half-full, I like to direct projects with mostly positive, life-affirming themes,” Rao says. “My latest film, Unforgettable, is about a man who has lost his memory and wanders the streets of Saigon until he is mesmerized by a mysterious woman. This film explores the themes of love, memory, and fate.“

Unforgettable poster copy

The optimism is giving Rao a whole lot of luck. The film has garnered a lot of attention at film festivals and nominated for several awards. So far it has won three for Best Short Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

“I began to write Unforgettable while on a long trip to Vietnam almost three years ago. After working on the script for over a year, I put together a team of some of Vietnam’s most talented film professionals, who were very passionate about this project. We shot the film over five days, then an extra two days a month later, to redo some shots and add in new ones. None of the days were less than 16 hours, and the last two were over 24 hours each.  On a film set, no matter how good your planning is, there’s never enough time.”

“It wasn’t easy to make a film in Vietnamese; I wrote it in English and then my wife translated it. The language barrier was one of the challenges. However, I was fortunate that many key members such as the DP (Cinematographer) and Production Managers, spoke English. The actors didn’t speak much English, so I had to memorize the Vietnamese dialogue to be able to direct them.”

He’s written and directed nine short films and has also written four feature film scripts.

His 2002 short film, RAJU’S BLIND DATE, played at festivals around the world and was nominated for best short film at The Reelworld Film Festival, Worldwide Short Film Festival, and The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. This film also played on CBC, The Comedy Network and Air Canada flights within Canada. It led to a development deal with The Comedy Network to make a TV series based on the film.

In spite of his international experience, Rao has local roots. He was born in Toronto and studied film production at Trebas Institute and Ryerson University. As if that wasn’t enough, he also has a degree in Political Science and History from the University of Toronto.

In addition to being a filmmaker, Rao is an animal welfare advocate.

“My family has always had dogs, mostly German Shepherds so I’ve always been comfortable with animals. And I have a profound respect for animals and nature in general. It’s a shame that most people’s lives have become so busy and removed from nature, that we don’t realize we are losing it very rapidly, and something needs to change,” he explains.

He practices animal advocacy by being on a plant-based diet. He’s been on it for the last nine years and says he feels better mentally and physically than ever before.

 

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Diana Pereira

Diana Pereira is a journalist, a university journalism teacher, a world traveller, a fair-weather kayaker, and a frequent bruncher. She's working on her mermaid status, travelling to as many countries as she can that include a body of water and when she's home in Toronto, you can find her in a kayak on Lake Ontario.

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